Carlo Bergonzi: Italian Songs
In April of 1994, I had the pleasure of attending a recital Carlo Bergonzi gave at New York’s Carnegie Hall. It was billed as the tenor’s North American farewell concert, but I suspect that few of us in the audience truly believed that Bergonzi, who loves singing with every fiber of his being, would withdraw from the stage. Indeed, Bergonzi — now approaching his 76th birthday — continues to make occasional recital appearances. In fact, May 3, 2000 Bergonzi is scheduled to sing his first Otello at Carnegie Hall with the Opera Orchestra of New York.
Bergonzi’s recitals are treasures, each offering a lesson in the art of Italian singing. In a review of that lovely 1994 Carnegie Hall concert, I wrote: “While the song literature of Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti (not to mention Tosti, Bixio, di Capua and de Curtis) may not be the artistic equals of the great lieder of Schubert and Schumann, one would be hard-pressed to advance that argument in the face of Mr. Bergonzi’s committed delivery.”
Now, everyone can relish Bergonzi’s captivating artistry in Italian canzoni. In 1977, Bergonzi, joined by the superb pianist John Wustman, made a recording for CBS of many of his favorite Italian songs. That recital has been reissued on CD, as part of Sony Classical’s mid-priced “Vocal Masterworks” series. In liner notes that accompany the reissue, Bergonzi states, “Throughout my career, all over the world, I have sung the Italian songs that I performed on this recording. They are part of who I am, part of the identity of any Italian tenor.” Bergonzi’s love for these songs is apparent in each and every bar. Listen to the way, for example, he caresses the flowing melodies of Bellini’s “Vaga luna,” Donaudy’s “O del mio amato ben,” or Tosti’s “Ideale.” Bergonzi is equally adept in the more lively numbers. Indeed, I have always considered him to be one of the most rhythmically incisive of all singers, a talent he employs to sparkling effect in such canzoni as Donizetti’s “Me voglio fa ‘na casa,” and Rossini’s “La Danza.” Additionally, one marvels at Bergonzi’s uncanny employment of rubato, the flexibility of phrasing that gives a melodic line its shape and life. Tirindelli’s “O primavera!” and Buzzi-Peccia’s “Lolita” offer particularly striking examples of this art. John Wustman proves throughout to be a technically superb and totally sympathetic collaborator.
For the most part, Bergonzi’s voice displays its characteristic and beguiling combination of beauty, warmth, and Italianate “spin.” It must be acknowledged that by the time this recording was made, his high notes did not have the freedom and resonance of his performances in the '50s and '60s. In truth, these songs do not tax the voice in the same manner as Bergonzi’s most famous operatic roles. And, such is the strength of his artistry that rarely, if ever, did I find the slight limitations in the upper register to detract from the joy this recital gives. The remastered sound is excellent. In addition to Bergonzi’s introductory essay, the booklet includes the original Italian texts and English translations. To fill out the disc, Sony Classical also includes an excerpt from Bergonzi’s 1977 complete recording of Puccini’s early opera, Edgar.
The reissue of this wonderful disc has been long overdue. Now that it is here, do not hesitate to acquire it and savor its unique beauties, again and again.
K.M. (Aug. 2001)